China's "Mother River," the Yellow River, is experiencing one of its worst water crises in history, forcing the Chinese government to undertake major projects to relieve sustained and aggravated shortages in its drainage area.
The measures are channeling water to the upper reaches of the Yellow River, expanding farm lands under the water-efficient irrigation program, and restoring vegetation and the ecological environment in the source area of the river.
People had taken too much from the river, and it was time to repay and nurse the "Mother," even if it may cost inhabitants along the river their traditional lifestyles and livelihoods, according to Professor Li Rongsheng with the Research Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The second longest river in China, the 5,464-meter-long Yellow River originates in the mountains of western China and winds its way through eight provinces and autonomous regions, before reaching the Bohai Sea in east China.
Since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the government has spared no efforts in harnessing the Yellow River with water conservancy projects, including Sanmenxia, Liujiaxia, Longyangxia and Xiaolangdi dams.
However, since the early 1970s, the Yellow River has continued to dry up occasionally in the downstream Shandong Province.
Water flow into the river's mainstream in the first seven months of 2003 is predicted to be 8.2 billion cubic meters, 5.5 billion cubic meters less than during its worst previous dry season in 1997, and probably the lowest in five decades, according to experts with the Yellow River Water Resources Committee.
The predicted water flow is less than a forecast water use of 16.6 billion cubic meters, the experts said.
The committee, which is responsible for the distribution of water in the Yellow River valley, may face its toughest job in 2003, after successfully balancing demand and supply by allocating the limited water resources last year, the experts added.
Now seven of the eight provinces and autonomous regions - Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan - along the valley are suffering the most serious water shortages since 1949. They are expecting a reduction in output of traditional farm produce this year.
The shrinking water flow and dry runs in the lower reaches of the Yellow River were mainly due to a huge increase in water consumption by the industrial and agricultural sectors in its drainage area and dry weather, according to Professor Hong Shangchi with the committee.
In 1950, the Yellow River irrigated 800,400 hectares of farm land, but the figure had since risen to 7.337 million, Hong said.
The committee predicts that by 2010, a normal year will see a water shortfall of 4 billion cubic meters in the Yellow River valley.
To alleviate the acute water shortages and revitalize China's "Mother River," the Chinese government endorsed a short-term water control plan for the Yellow River last year.
Under the plan, a water-efficient society will be created along the river valley, as a massive agricultural upgrading program based on the efficient use of water will be implemented. By 2010, the program will bring the proportion of water-efficient, irrigated farm land to 60 percent of the total area of irrigated land in the valley, up from the current 20 percent.
The plan also calls for the construction of the west route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project to start in 2010, which will cost over 300 billion yuan (US$36 billion) and is expected to divert 17 billion cubic meters of water from rivers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Yellow River valley.
(Xinhua News Agency April 28, 2008)